Sunday, February 6, 2011

226) Toy Story 3 (2010)

226) Toy Story 3 (2010) Dir: Lee Unkrich Date Released: June 2010 Date Seen: July 11, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

In conversation, I often sound more like a Pixar hater than I am because, while I often appreciate how well-done many of their films are in terms of individual scenes and general story-telling craft, I just don't think they're nearly as smart as their creators think they are. Toy Story 3 is a perfect example. I take great issue with its feigned air of maturity. It brings out the nitpicky, trolly side in me. For instance, Andy has packed up all his toys into a garbage bag to show us that he has grown up and is ready to move on. From a dramaturgical standpoint, I get why the story needs Andy to pack his things up and throw things away. But as a recent post-grad that admittedly, may be revealing how much of a sheltered life he's lived by asking this, I had to wonder: why does Andy have to throw his things away at all? If Andy's sister is moving from her smaller room into his room, why can't they just put his things there? 

Ok, ok, sorry about that, that bugs me but that's hardly a lethal blow to the film's Jenga Tower of Logic or anything, is it? So. Let's get beyond something that dumb and get to what I really don't like about Toy Story 3: the whole charting one's own maturation through objects thing, mostly. There's a didactic quality to many Pixar films that dictates that characters must ostentatiously act morally even when they're dealing with their Complex Emotions. At the same time, double standards are willfully created by doing so because after a point, the series creators have to unclench and treat a cartoon like a cartoon. The children in the daycare center are holy terrors and not human beings, just as Andy's sister was a slobbering lil brute in Toy Story. That at least made sense in Toy Story because throughout the film, Andy doesn't realize the importance of empathizing with his sis as he just doesn't take to heart the fact that he too was once just as heedlessly overzealous with his toys. But in Toy Story 3, that reductive logic stinks. We're just supposed to sympathized with Buzz and Woody and the gang's torture at the hands of these toddlers because that's just where our allegiances lie in this film: in objects that don't have a master that needs to keep them to recognize just how important they are to him. We can treat them as sub-humans because they don't matter, they're just kiddies, after all. 

Forgive me for belaboring a point but: if we accept the fact that the toys are no longer a part of Andy's life, and that they do need to find new children to play with them, why can't their new owners be those same toddlers? Andy's goodbye to the toys at the film's beginning is a rite of passage we're supposed to respect. So why can't the filmmakers realize that in the same way, viewers need to respect the fact that toys do get used and eventually do get thrown out? Sure the bigger, scary death-be-not-part embrace tugged on my heart-strings but doesn't the scene the wrong message in a movie about accepting the end of things? I mean, they're in a fucking volcano. And it's scary as shit which is supposed to make the scene where they embrace before being melted down that much more poignant because they're up against such inevitable odds. But that kind of thing just feels so completely counter-intuitive in light of the film's thematic goal: growing the fuck up.

Bottom line: Toy Story 3 just didn't work for me in the same way it did for so many others.  I often thought that Lotso was treated like a bargain basement baddy at the expense of basically recognizing, as the film almost does before the switch-flipping scene, that he had just as much right as Woody and Buzz to panic and be afraid of being irrelevant. The fact that he's given two or three chances to redeem himself in the film and never actually gets to do that shows how mean-spirited the series is because, well, it's a kiddy cartoon and once you assume a moral component that kind of shallow entertainment, especially when you have as literal imaginations as many of the Pixar artists do, something will eventually give. I suspect viewers just don't care that much because superficially, the Toy Story movies work. But after a point, Toy Story 3 just feels frustratingly crude.


  1. Sometimes the mean baddie, despite having some good in him, (vader, tho now that i think about it post-prequel he was a dick his entire life) isn't going to flip flop.

    I feel like thats a bigger life lesson anyway. I mean remember the whole Brewhaha over the Incredibles story where people with special talents have to pretend to be mediocre or risk some government oppression?

    Near end scene where Speedster cant win the race by miles but instead his family tells him to slow to 2nd. Thats not exactly a message you should be telling kids.

    I will agree that the pedigree of the Toy Story movies are for kids, but as much as Andy has changed Toy Story 3 also understands the people who have seen the series since the start in 1995 have also changed and grown up.

    It was why i was able to give them a pass on the non-redemption. It wasnt like we didnt see Lots-O never be good, he just took being 'abandoned' a lot differently.

  2. See, I hadn't even thought of that re: INCREDIBLES. But the difference between that and Lots-o is that there's potentially a leavening lesson to Speedster's actions. The only thing Lotso's final betrayal gives us is an excuse to snigger at him when he's beat up and put on a radiator grill just for daring to have such a cowardly, mean reaction to the fear of death.

    I think what kills me about that is, if they hadn't taken the time to show us that he is human, it wouldn't matter as much to me. The fact that they went out of their way to make him relatable for a moment then back to being a dastardly asshole the next bugs me. It really is having your cake and eating it too: "He's human, kids! Now you can go back to hating him for the mean ol' asshole that he's been presented as up to this point." which is not the same as "Hey, kids, sometimes to get by you're going to need to do things you're not going to like. Sorry!" That I respect more as a lesson than "Hey, guess what? That bully you hate? He's just as unhappy as you. But he's still a douchebag so you can right on back to your comfort zone and hate him."